I am Thai genetically pure Chinese and grown up in Chinese communities with western educations. Now I am started to have western friends. Many of them are older than me or even my dad! I know them from Software Engineering events in Bangkok
In Asian culture I normally call older people with prefix.

1. I call older people, but his age is younger than my dad
2. I call older people, and his age is older or equal to my dad

As is I normally wai them and add prefix Khun when I call his name. But I feel uncomfortable since Khun in Thai. It means he/she is the same age as mine.

How to express my politeness with prefix to them?

Context is I see them at an event and I would like to say hello to them. And start talking.

  • 2
    We have nothing like those prefixes in English. Your friend "Bill" is just "Bill" whether he is older than you, younger than you, older than your dad, etc.
    – stangdon
    Aug 13, 2018 at 18:59
  • Could you add some examples that would use such "old person" word or phrase? Context is important for indicating what quality of the "older person" you are trying to describe, and whether you are talking about someone or to someone.
    – user3169
    Aug 13, 2018 at 19:18
  • Sometimes "Mr." (or "Ms.") can be used as a prefix to someone's first name when there is an age gap – but that's typically reserved for children. For example, when my son was under the age of ten, he referred to an elderly neighbor as "Mr. Gene." I'm leaving this only as a comment, though, because this isn't an applicable practice in the workplace, which is what your question is about.
    – J.R.
    Aug 13, 2018 at 20:58
  • @user3169 Context is I found them in the event and I would like to say hello to them. And start talking.
    – Sarit
    Aug 14, 2018 at 4:50

2 Answers 2


You don't.

English politeness is complex and hard to learn. However we don't use suffixes for names. We rarely use the "Mr" or "Mrs" prefixes, except in formal, written use.

So If I know an older person and his name is Robert Smith, I call him "Robert". If I know him better I might know his nickname, in which case I call him "Bob" when talking to him or with joint friends

In some formal situations, I might use "Robert Smith", or even "Mr Smith". But never "Mr Robert".

Age doesn't come into it. I would expect Robert to use my name exactly as I use his.

If you are speaking Thai, then do whatever is expected in Thai, if that is "Robert-wai" or "Robert-khun" that is what you say. I can't speak Thai.

  • 2
    Many older members of Western societies would find it very impolite for people to draw attention to their age. I am 66 and I would certainly be annoyed by people calling me, in effect, "Old Man". Aug 13, 2018 at 19:56
  • "We don't use suffixes for names." The question is about a prefix to a name, not a suffix. Aug 13, 2018 at 20:36
  • @WeatherVane it's obviously a typo. Feel free to edit the answer yourself instead of commenting.
    – user428517
    Aug 13, 2018 at 20:55
  • @ell I posted my own answer, so I would not edit another answer. Did you mean "edit the question?" I don't know Thai. Where exactly is the typo? This answer's "Robert-wai" looks like a suffix to me, and "Mr Robert is a prefix. Feel free to post your own answer. Aug 13, 2018 at 21:25
  • 1
    There are a few cases where Mr Robert and like forms would be used, however, usually in situations where the speaker must balance familiarity and cordiality against a high level of social distance. Nowadays, Mr X is probably limited to children in the American South; however, growing up in California, we did regularly refer to the school chaplains as, e.g. Father Patty instead of Father Murphy in this vein. I have likewise heard clerical staff in medical practices address the doctors in this way, i.e. Doctor Joe.
    – choster
    Aug 14, 2018 at 1:25

Titles such as "Doctor Bob" or "Sergeant Ben" are typically earned through achievements or qualifications, and are only really used in the context of the profession to which they apply. You wouldn't expect to meet a medical practitioner on holiday and have to call him/her "Doctor X"; you would just call them "X".

Prefixes such as "Sir" or "Lord" are reserved for people who have been granted those titles, and are used more frequently than titles such as "Doctor" or "Nurse" as a mark of respect. This isn't essential, however in a formal situation it would be expected (such as in a formal interview or in a letter).

"Mr", "Mrs", "Miss", etc. are normally reserved either for formal occasions such as in en email or if you do not know a person very well - if I didn't know Fred White very well, I would likely refer to him as Mr White in an email and maybe in person. You also refer to teachers by "Mr/Mrs/Miss surname" at school, though this doesn't always carry through to university. It is a mark of respect to someone you do not know very well, and a way to make conversation more impersonal.

On the whole though, prefixes and suffixes are rarely used in English. There are no real prefixes or suffixes used to denote age which cannot be misconstrued as insulting (see "Baby James" or "Old Man Bob"). This applies to social hierarchy too, though you might refer to your superior at work as "Boss" in the right scenario (such as as a nickname or if they request it of you).

Titles are typically earned in most English-speaking places. You don't usually just get a prefix or suffix for being old or rich; you get a title based on your achievements (or in rare cases, the achievements of your relatives such as "Prince Harry" or "First Lady").

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